Scolari savours Chelsea challenge
Luiz Felipe Scolari could have retired as one of the most successful coaches of his generation after UEFA EURO 2008. He had, after all, guided both Gremio and Palmeiras to Copa Libertadores glory, masterminded Brazil's 2002 FIFA World Cup™ conquest, and transformed Portugal into a formidable outfit on the international stage.
Felipão, however, is addicted to challenge, and that he will certainly face as manager of Chelsea, where he will be under the fierce scrutiny of the club's insatiable owner Roman Abramovich. The Brazilian's predecessors have all discovered the Stamford Bridge hot-seat to be a poisoned chalice. Claudio Ranieri was axed following a season in which the Blues came second in the league - their highest finish since 1955 - and reached the UEFA Champions League semi-final for the first time; Jose Mourinho suffered the same fate despite winning two Premier League titles in three attempts; and Avram Grant received his marching orders after the Blues finished marginal runners-up to Manchester United in their quest to reign in England and Europe.
Scolari, himself, is aware that silverware is paramount to him keeping his job. "I must deliver titles to stay here," he admitted. "This is one of the biggest clubs in the world and there is a huge demand for success."
The 59-year-old must clear a series of hurdles to realise this success. He needs to re-adapt to the day-to-day hustle of club management following seven years in international football, adjust to living in a new country and master a foreign language, although he insisted: "."
He must also stabilise a Chelsea camp which has, over the summer, been bruised by unsettlement, and attempt to outwit managers of the calibre of Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger of Arsenal. Moreover, Abramovich's demands stretch beyond seizing trophies. "I want Chelsea to win playing beautiful football, and that is what I will try to achieve," said Scolari.
The pressure of having to prosper, immediately and attractively, is not alien to the former centre-back. The Brazilian national team is perennially under immense pressure to dominate and delight, and when Scolari was charged with fulfilling these goals in 2001, he was, in truth, an unpopular appointment.
The Seleção were in something of a crisis, and Felipão was regarded as a coach whose teams were, albeit effective, systematically limited and monotonously predictable. Defeat by Uruguay on his debut, a result which left their FIFA World Cup qualification in doubt, followed by elimination from the Copa America at the hands of Honduras, amplified the consensus that he was a lamb destined for slaughter.
That lamb irrefutably silenced his critics, his capricious side surviving a tumultuous voyage to reach Korea/Japan 2002, and then charging to glory in the Far East. Scolari had proven himself a master at making his teams adapt to the moment, at extracting the best from his players, at triumphing in handsome fashion.
He wants to repeat this accomplishment in London. "I want to make Chelsea loved around the world, like Barcelona and Manchester United," explained Scolari. "I believe we can win titles by playing beautiful football."
The Blues will begin the 2008/09 campaign at home to Portsmouth in the Premier League on Sunday, and Scolari has his sights on multiple honours. "," he declared. "Chelsea gambled on my ability but I believe in myself. I am not afraid of the pressure.
"Chelsea reached three finals last year but now we must strive to do better. They want more, to become the best team in the world. I will try to do that with the players this season."
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